Municipal Digital Access

We hear about Smart Cities more frequently these days, due to considerable progress in recent years. But it is an initiative that has been around for decades. The idea emerged when analysts began using technology to collect images and data to help improve civic services, protect against disasters, and improve citizens' lives. At its core that is still the intent.

Over time, growing community involvement and needs, private and public sector collaboration and incredible technological advancements have made more smart city applications possible, necessary and invaluable. The evolution of visionary solutions is paying off for municipalities and their citizens, providing greater convenience, efficiency, energy savings, environmental protection, and safety and security.

Networked Access Control’s Role
Like office buildings, manufacturing plants, and other facilities within the private sector, municipalities have deployed digital access solutions across their many publicly operated buildings and operations, including unmanned infrastructure.

Local education districts are also stepping up installations of networked electronic access control (EAC) to secure more school openings.

Access Authorization
Digital access solutions allow municipality security departments to easily, immediately, and remotely authorize users to access spaces. This applies to an employee’s primary work location as well as other buildings and sites tied into a city’s EAC system.

Authorizations can be temporary or full-time, programmed for specific locations or city-wide, and applied to a variety of openings – gates, parking garages, building entries, individual offices, employee and delivery lockers, server rooms and cabinets.

Along with the ability to be activated, modified and revoked remotely at any time, digital access solutions provide an audit trail of activity. In today’s hybrid work environment, monitoring the use of offices and other workplace locations has become important. Both the private and public sectors are compelled to make the most of their leased or owned properties. Analyzing audit trails to understand usage patterns helps with managing and scheduling workspaces thoughtfully and efficiently.

EAC activity data can also be integrated with building management software solutions for more energy-efficient control of HVAC and electrical requirements depending on occupancy and time of day. Such analytics can also trigger window coverings to activate for additional security and efficiency.

Critical Infrastructure
In addition to municipal offices and buildings, smart cities want to bring command and control of their infrastructure under their roof, including city-owned/managed facilities and devices for bridge and tunnel access, multi-directional expressways, airport access and school crossings. Video for live surveillance and forensic purposes also falls under this category.

Enhancing traffic flow is a constant need. Sensors and cameras have proven to be helpful in logically triggering signal changes based on the intersection vehicle loads they detect. Now AI is taking that data and further refining flow with the goal of reducing fossil fuel consumption, emissions and driver stress, while improving and prioritizing first responder movement.

Safeguarding the more than 400,000 Intelligent Traffic Systems (ITS) cabinets across the United States that house those electronics is another way digital access solutions are helping cities become smarter. Used to store and protect the technology that connects and controls signals, vehicles and digital road signage, these enclosures are critical for safety.

The issue is most of them are still secured with generic mechanical locks using a physical key that can be easily obtained and copied. That has the potential of opening the door to tampering with active networks connected to municipal and state agencies, escalating the risk of a cyber-attack as well as danger on the road.

As a result, more municipalities are now implementing higher security smart-locking solutions on ITS cabinets, managed by web-based software and robust access control systems with real-time monitoring and control. Again, this allows a municipality’s traffic safety staff to enable and disable credentials as needed and to track where and when cabinets have been accessed and by whom for accountability.

Digital access-controlled locks are also deployed for gates, doors and electronics enclosures at other unmanned municipal unmanned infrastructure sites like water treatment facilities and city-run power generation substations.

Digital Access for Schools
School districts are adding EAC to more school exterior entrance points and interior openings, including classrooms, to better control authorized access.

“For example, solutions like IN100 Aperio® real-time wireless locks can be triggered to initiate a lockdown/shelter-in-place event either locally or remotely when there’s an active threat,” says Lester LaPierre, Director of Business Development, Electronic Access Control, ASSA ABLOY. “Once activated, school personnel, first responders, and the municipality are instantly alerted.”

Pre-authorized credentials issued to law enforcement and response teams allow them to quickly gain tactical entry through controlled openings. “Certain EAC solutions also tie into school and district video systems, which connect to 911 systems and first responder radios and handheld tablets,” adds LaPierre. “This helps responders gain greater situational awareness to correlate where police and tactical teams are in relation to openings, a perpetrator, and those sheltering in place.”

It Takes a Community
The private sector is also helping advance the smart city cause. Businesses are connecting municipal agencies with their EAC data and video surveillance system images when called upon. Homeowners are also helping keep an eye on things around cities by providing doorbell camera footage and security alarm history of events. After all, community involvement and promoting a safer, better quality of life for its citizens is what a smart city strives to be.

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2024 issue of Security Today.

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